“The way I teach people to sing… I have them talk the lyric out until it sounds like something they really believe, like an actor with a monologue.” Margaret Whiting
Margaret Whiting was born into a life filled with music. Her father, Richard Whiting, composed iconic numbers from the Golden Age of Hollywood like “Ain’t We Got Fun?” “On the Good Ship Lollypop,” and American Songbook standards like “Time After Time.” Her mother, an agent, was, in Margaret’s words “like a road company Rose in Gypsy.” Major performing artists and writers were commonplace at the family’s Beverly Hills home.
At age six, young Margaret, who had perfect pitch, sang for Johnny Mercer, one of her father’s collaborators. When the lyricist co-founded Capitol Records in 1942, she was the first female to be offered a recording contract. Margaret was 13. It would be a few years before Mercer introduced her to the public, but mentoring by “Uncle Johnny” had begun in earnest. “He taught me all the joys of singing; how to phrase a lyric and pick a hit song…” Margaret Whiting
Center photo with Johnny Mercer
A top recording artist post World War II, Margaret had million-selling records such as “Moonlight in Vermont” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.” She was equally adept with big band, jazz, pop, and – wait for it – country, known as a vocalist who invested in lyrics. Some things never change. Listen to her recordings today to hear an author’s intention shine through.
Nightclub and theater appearances followed. The multitalented honoree toured with an act, briefly appeared in a television situation comedy, worked in radio, and made endless appearances on variety and talk shows long after Billboard charts featured her name. Stephen Holden of The New York Times said, “As long as she could get up and sing, she would, and eagerly”.
A terrific champion of young performers, mentoring, hosting workshops and encouraging the less experienced, Margaret Whiting forged on until ailing health curtailed this avocation. The lady had spirit.
Cabaret dressed to the nines Monday night to present It Might As Well Be Spring, a beautifully produced celebration of the life and music of the great Margaret Whiting who died in 2011. Introduced by Managing Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation, Rick Meadows and co- hosted by its Artistic Director KT Sullivan and Debbi Whiting, the salute to Ms. Whiting’s mother whisked by in a panoply of many of today’s best and brightest artists. Between numbers associated with the vocalist, we were treated to a well integrated history of her life deftly authored by Ms. Whiting and John Fricke, who had known the celebrant. The evening was filled with respect, affection, and the kind of varied interpretation Margaret Whiting would, with her appreciative open mind and ear, have greatly valued.
It would be impossible to call out all the fine performances. Herein highlights: Marisa Mulder offered a lovely, airbrushed rendition of “My Ideal” in which an eyebrow-raised pause after although he may be late framed the entire song. Barbara Fasano conjured pastoral “Moonlight in Vermont” to shadow-flickering piano accompaniment by Eric Comstock. Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch (also on piano) rendered “Far Away Places”/ “Gypsy in My Soul” with craft and infectious pleasure (love the red socks).
“Anyplace I Hang My Hat” was sung by Carole J. Bufford with ever impressive control and heads-up phrasing putting her own personal stamp on the classic (not easy). “The People That You Never Get To Love,” a splendid Rupert Homes song (are you listening, singers?) was introduced by its author with gratitude to Margaret Whiting for recognition and support. The people that you never get to love/The poem you intended to begin/The saddest words that anyone has ever said are/’Lord, what might have been’/But no one said you get to win… As “inhabited” by a convincing Eric Yves Garcia (away from the piano), the song evoked wistful memories.
Francesca Blumenthal’s wonderful “Lies of Handsome Men” was referred to by the oft-married Margaret Whiting as “the story of my life.” Its eloquent lyric, usually presented with bemusement or resignation was arrestingly interpreted by Tanya Moberly as echoing despair. Evergreen Marilyn Maye (Billy Stritch on symbiotic piano), whose cabaret show was the last attended by Margaret Whiting, all but stopped the show. The last of her numbers, “Blues in the Night” (My Mama Done Told Me), showed this formidable talent as pithy, growly, phrase-perfect, stage commandeering as ever.
KT Sullivan and John Fricke performed a medley of songs by Margaret’s father, Richard Whiting, a segment she often put in her own shows. The two seasoned vocalists seemed like a genuine act. Debbie Whiting recalls her mother’s stories about singing these as a child. “You’re coming along, Margaret,” her father would say, “…by the way, how did you like the song?”
“4 Girls 4” Special Material ( Johnny Mercer/Tom Hatten) was exuberantly offered by Heather MacRae as Rosemary Clooney – “Mother Earth”, Lauren Fox as Helen O’Connell – “The Ice Princess”, Carol J. Bufford as Margaret Whiting -“The Shopper”, and Debbi Whiting as the smart-alecky Rose Marie – “The Salt of the Earth, because I made sure we got paid.” Representing “the little show that could” which blossomed into 12 years on the road, this cheery ditty overflowed with bonhomie. Vocal arrangement was skilled, repartee fun. It must’ve been some show!
A surprise presentation of The 2014 Margaret Whiting Award to Natalie Douglas brought the singer to tears between two of her own powerful numbers.
Debbi Whiting spoke of Margaret Whiting’s surprise and gratitude upon learning that one of her recordings was used on the soundtrack of the 2009 film, Julie and Julia. “Somebody still likes me,” she said to her daughter. “You bet mom,” the visibly moved Debbi confirmed from the stage, “You bet.” The audience agreed.
A crackerjack evening; fluid, splendidly written, industrial strength warm.
Arrangements were top notch.
Featuring: Tex Arnold, Carole J. Bufford, Jim Caruso, Eric Comstock, Mary Foster Conklin with Wayne Hosford, Baby Jane Dexter, Natalie Douglas, Barbara Fasano, Lauren Fox, John Fricke, Eric Yves Garcia, Terese Genecco, Heather MacRae, Marilyn Maye, Tanya Moberly, Marissa Mulder, Karen Oberlin, Shaynee Rainbolt, Billy Stritch, Stacy Sullivan, KT Sullivan, Debbi Whiting, and Carol Woods
Finale and backstage photo by Kathy Brown
All others by Maryann Lopinto
The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents
It Might As Well Be Spring
A Celebration in Song of the Incomparable Life of Margaret Whiting
Musical Director/Pianist- Tex Arnold (who worked with Margaret Whiting for 27 years)
Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
June 23, 2014